As of this morning, Dirk Nowitzki is 832 points away from passing Wilt Chamberlain as the No. 5 scorer in NBA history. The Dallas Mavericks' former MVP and Finals MVP winner has become perhaps the greatest international player of all time and is adored by fans in Texas, his native Germany and around the world.
In terms of team success and individual success, this season has been difficult for Nowitzki. His Mavs are 8-21, the worst record in the Western Conference, and Nowitzki is averaging his lowest scoring total (11.3 points per game) since his rookie season. He signed a two-year deal with the Mavs that affords a team option in 2018-19, and before last night's 112-97 loss to the Golden State Warriors, Nowitzki told Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning Newshe's leaning toward returning for next season:
“I’m not going to say 100 percent I’ll be back -- but it’s looking like it,” Nowitzki said after the Mavericks had a morning walk-through at the Olympic Club in downtown San Francisco. “I feel fine so far. I’ve played every game. I’d love to play all 82. That would be amazing at [age] 39. We’ll see how the body feels. But so far, it’s been fine.”
He knew when Deron Williams and Andrew Bogut left last season that the team was deep into a retooling mode and he was prepared for it -- at least as best as a champion can be prepared for it.
“We drafted an unbelievable prospect this summer [Dennis Smith Jr.],” he said. “I figured we’re going to be a team that’s rebuilding a little bit and trying to get better and trying to get back to winning ways.
“I signed up for, obviously, two years to help the franchise push through that and get better. I didn’t think we would be sitting here 10 [games] over .500. I mean, I wasn’t delusional. We felt like we might have a shot at sneaking into the playoffs. And we still do. We’ve played the toughest schedule in basketball to this point.
“As long as my body feels fine like it has so far, with no setbacks like last year when I missed two months, I’m looking forward to hopefully fulfilling my contract.”
Nowitzki also told Sefko that this will be his "last contract" in the NBA and that he is trying to enjoy the season as it comes. He also knows his Mavs are just 5 1/2 games out of the No. 8 spot in the West and, much like in 2016-17, a late surge for a spot could happen:
“When the schedule turns around for us, we got to find ways to be a little better down the stretch and not give some of those games away,” he said. “What are we, 1-12 in games decided by under five points? We just got to be better in those games.”
Actually, they are 2-13 in games decided by eight points or fewer. But why split hairs. His point is well taken. And he is ever-hopeful that the recent play will set this team up to play meaningful games in terms of getting into the playoff picture in January and beyond.
“Similar to last year, we started out pretty brutal and we came to within 2 ½ games out of the eight spot,” Nowitzki said. “It was a heck of a run. Being consistent and playing hard. I’m expecting the same thing this year. Hopefully, we’ll get some of our injured bodies back and make a run at this.”